Healing Places

Creating sensory and therapeutic spaces in the city

Healing Places is a young initiative based in Rotterdam that investigates the impact of urban spaces on our bodies, and how architecture can positively impact urban health and wellbeing in cities. The project creates multidisciplinary platform that connects users, researchers and practitioners in the field of architecture, urbanism, medical sciences, art, design, new technology etc.

Doctor consultations, changes in our diet, yoga or mindfulness meditation, most of us are trying to stay or become healthier. But what if the urban spaces that surround us could also be therapeutic tools that could help us improve our physical and mental health? Imagine that in the office, university, in the street on our way home, we could have access to spaces specifically designed to help us feel better, stimulate our senses, reduce the stress level or encourage us to be more physically active?


Living in cities can be detrimental to our health

As the world population is growing inexorably and people are living longer, urban health is becoming a major challenge for cities around the world. Recent studies have shown that living in cities contribute to the degradation of our physical and mental health. Artificial and con­fined spaces, standardized architecture, air conditioning, noise or pollution increase the risk to develop anxiety disorder, diabetes, cardiovascular and immune diseases, etc.

Urban health issues are even more prevalent in low-income neighborhoods where, in addition to socio-economical difficulties, populations don’t have access to good quality housing and public spaces. Of course, health is a combination of complex factors, but the quality and physical characteristics of the built environment plays an important role. It seems that we have overlooked the impact of modern architecture and urban activities could have on our bodies and mind.

The human body – an (almost) unexplored territory in architecture

So if we want to create healthier urban spaces, we should look closer at the human body, how it works and how it interacts with the physical space.

Whether it is temperature receptors located in our skin, photosensitive cells in our eyes, our body is made of millions of sensory receptors that continuously react to physical stimuli in our environments. This information will be transmitted to the brain, analyzed, interpreted and will trigger a physiological or behavioral response. We tend to tune down this constant psycho-biological activity to focus on other matters but it doesn’t keep our bodies from reacting on a positive or negative way to external stimuli.

© Bruce Wetzel and Harry Schaefer - National Cancer Institute

There are a lot of scientific researches, technological inventions or designed processes that have been or are being developed and that could be highly beneficial the architectural and urban planning practice. The problem is they are not always easily accessible or understandable for non-experts.

Therefore, the first objective of Healing Places is to collect knowledge and practical tools in order to help space designers have a deeper understanding of health challenges and make better design decisions knowing the impact they could have on the body, psychological perception and comfort of user’s. The platform will develop a series of 5 thematic publications that will gather inspiring projects, essays, condensed reflections on medical discoveries in neurosciences, psychology, biology, etc.

© Healing Places - Publications

Developing therapeutic and sensory spaces through experiments and place making

The second objective of Healing Places is to explore concrete ways to improve urban health and well-being in cities through experiments and placemaking. The idea is to develop ‘healing urban spaces’, small indoor and outdoor spaces installed in the city that would have a therapeutic effect on users by stimulating their senses. For example, users have free access to these spaces, spend few minutes or longer and enjoy a relaxation break, reconnect with their body, get more physically active, focused, to prevent the appearance of health problems.

What would these healing spaces look like? To find out, Healing Places wants to gather users and multidisciplinary teams of experts to take part in an urban experiment in one neighborhood of Rotterdam. The goal is to determine what are the health issues affecting the local population and design prototypes of indoor and outdoor healing spaces that would use shapes, colors, materials, smell, sound, sensors, apps, vegetation etc. to trigger positive physiological and psychological reactions. Users and experts will have the possibility to discover and test the architectural installations during a public exhibition.

© Healing Places

Thus, integrated into the urban into the urban environment, those small spaces could be used as a form therapy, a selfcare practice that would help us feel better. If generalized, the concept of small healing spaces could become a way to raise awareness towards urban health issue among local populations and city experts. By prototyping, experimenting, testing new concept, the project wants to pave the way to develop more interactive and holistic approach of space that not only respond to functional or economic challenges but also connects with users’ biological and emotional needs.

Healing Places is currently organising a crowdfunding campaign to help financing these projects. Feel free to participate and spread the word!

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